Friendships rarely start on terms more passive-aggressive than an intergenerational one does in “Good Posture,” writer-director Dolly Wells’ roughly drafted feature debut that manages to be just affable enough. Navigating the bookish streets of New York again after playing a kindhearted bookstore owner in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” — this time, behind the camera in present-day Brooklyn — Wells swaddles her film with her soft artistic spirit; an aura she also infused into Marielle Heller’s melancholic drama. The result is a genial slice-of-life comedy, a female-driven, late-coming-of-age tale in the tradition of Lynn Shelton’s “Laggies,” exclusively brewed and bottled among the tree-lined sidewalks of Bed-Stuy.
While sufficiently charming, “Good Posture” would have been mostly unremarkable if it weren’t for sensational “The Meyerowitz Stories” actor Grace Van Patten, who plays recent college graduate Lilian, an entitled and thoroughly privileged brat who hides her aimless existence behind her noticeable beauty. With a responsibility-free life more or less funded by her widowed father who lives in Paris with his girlfriend, Lilian doesn’t even bother to sort out her recycling properly. Or so we learn through a well sketched and amusing exchange between Lilian and her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Nate (Gary Richardson) at the start of the film.
Our spoiled anti-heroine doesn’t fail the most basic of adult tasks out of incompetence or unintelligence; on the contrary, she is as sharp as they come at her young age. She just has no interest in filling grown-up shoes. Lilian’s unpleasant indifference to maturity is so severe that she can’t even manage to move far away enough from Nate. Instead, she squeezes herself into a tiny but bright rental bedroom at a near-by townhouse owned by her daddy’s generous friends: the renowned but reclusive writer Julia Price (Emily Mortimer, Wells’ “Doll & Em” co-creator and -star) and her musician husband Don (Ebon Moss-Bachrach.)
Soon enough, the animosity that runs in the shabby-chic brownstone (which owes its lived-in authenticity to production designer Charlotte Abbott) announces itself through slammed doors. A tense welcome dinner among the three, followed by a secret smoking session between Don and Lilian, leads to a marital fight, kicking Don out of the picture at once. Enter George (Timm Sharp), Julia’s awkward dog walker who lives in the basement and seems disgruntled by Lilian’s negligent presence almost instantly. While the two outsiders try to figure out a way to peacefully co-exist under the Prices’ roof, Julia starts making reasonable asks from Lilian: In lieu of paying rent, Lilian could cook her dinners. Except, Julia doesn’t speak her demands out loud. Taking the most writerly route imaginable, she leaves habitual instructions in Lilian’s diary. For a while, the duo communicates solely through piercing written exchanges, musings so playfully bitter that they would hold their own against any strongly worded letter in “Dangerous Liaisons.”
Good-humored it may be, but this story design unfortunately relegates Julia down to a mere voiceover for the most part — the ever-graceful performer Mortimer’s exit is sorely felt until her brief return in the final act. On the other hand, the dubious structure gives Van Patten the freedom to make “Good Posture” her own, especially when Lilian finally decides to do something with her filmmaking degree (other than recording pointless monologues on her phone to share with her father one day).
Going behind the deeply private Julia’s back, Lilian joins forces with the energetic yet shoddy cameraman Sol — the genuinely hysterical John Early steals every scene that he is in, promptly uplifting “Good Posture” with his instinctive comic timing. Standing in as talking-heads interviewees in Lilian’s documentary, authors Zadie Smith, Martin Amis, and Jonathan Ames make for a most welcome surprise, serving up first-rate performances (and in Ames’ case, some serious dance moves) playing slightly goofy versions of themselves. Along with her editor Adelina Bichis, Wells smartly spreads their bits of footage throughout the film, forming spontaneous chapters that smooth out the edges of some choppy plot transitions.
Predictably, Wells’ players all end on a note slightly higher than the one they’ve started out with. But gaping holes in their character arcs, paired with some clumsily lit street scenes shot by cinematographer Ryan Eddleston, don’t necessarily help the droopy first-film feel here. Still, there is an upright backbone somewhere in “Good Posture” that holds it all together, while a once-hopeless woman-child grows in Brooklyn against the odds.